Charles Vess talks us through some of his art for the new illustrated The Books Of Earthsea...
We’ve never been to Ursula K Le Guin’s fantasy land – but these new illustrations make us wish we had.
Ursula K Le Guin’s The Wizard Of Earthsea saga is about to be issued in one volume – all 1,008 pages of it! The book marks a four-year collaboration between Le Guin and artist Charles Vess. “I was very happy that before she passed away, she had approved everything in the book except for the very last drawing,” Vess tells Red Alert. “Of course, I wish she could have held the finished book in her hands.” WS
The Books Of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition is published by Gollancz on 25 October.
“Most of the covers down the years have given a light-skinned, sometimes blonde Ged – and he is certainly not described that way! Ursula was very determined that he should be brown-skinned. Her father was an anthropologist, mostly working with Pacific Northwest Indians, and she sent me a photograph of him standing with a group of native Americans. The person standing to the left of him in the photo, she said: ‘That’s Ged’.”
“Imagining the everyday was one of Ursula’s biggest concerns. She said that most epic fantasy has to do with marbled halls and brightly clad king and queens, and her books are about the people that live on the land. This image is from the beginning of a story about a wizard escaping a tragedy. He’s lost in the marsh, and the cow’s walking steadily in one direction, and he just puts his hand on his side and goes with him.”
“This is from the fifth book, which is mostly about Tenar. Ged has come back from the other lands, and is depleted of magic. I usually just start painting and let the colours come. I knew the dragon was a sort of reddish colour and I knew it had to be on a rock face, so I just started playing with the oranges and browns. I also completely redrew Tenar’s figure; she was more active before, and Ursula said she needed to be more circumspect.”
“This is from a short story that marks a transition in her thinking; that humans can be dragons. This is set on a hill that allows no lies. The girl transforms into a dragon, which is her true self. There’s also a thing about priests being all male and celibate. They’re missing a huge part of the meaning of the world. The sixth book is about righting that wrong. It’s amazing it was written so many years ago, and it’s so relevant to everything going on today.”
“One of the things I tried not to do was portraits. Millions of people have read these books, and they know what the characters look like. I didn’t want to get in the way of that, so I tried to keep everything at the middle distance – or even further away.”